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The kid in question is 7 years old and just finishing first grade. His parental guardian is his aunt (his father is not in the picture and his biological mother lost custody of him when he was very young). He has lived with his aunt for most of his life and calls her "mom". She also has a biological son who is also still a minor, he is around 12 or 13 and is in seventh grade. His aunt is not a bad parent, but she does not read to him (she is also not a native English speaker) or really spend time playing with him. He was also not spoken to very much as a kid, and as part of that his speech development is a little behind (he is still perfectly understandable, but I would say as a non-expert that his verbal skills are a couple of years behind what I would expect). He was enrolled in school late and for his first year and a half attended underfunded schools but now attends a much more well-funded school.

He does not have any specific intellectual or learning disability and while he is not brilliant he is of typical ability and I don't think that he has specific learning challenges. He can get easily frustrated sometimes when he is trying to do something that he doesn't understand (for example, if I try to get him to sound out words that he is having trouble with he will try for a bit and then give up and ask me to just read it). This is not insurmountable, as he does not act destructively or completely refuse to continue, although it can take some coaxing and determination to have him continue, and I will often just tell him the words and have him continue to sound out a couple of pages later. He is a good natured kid who gets along well with other kids his age. His brother/cousin that he lives with has a lot of anger and the dynamic there is not great (he worships the brother/cousin and the brother/cousin sometimes hangs out with him but also can be a bully).

He has made significant progress in reading and writing in the last half of a year (going from basically just knowing his ABCs to being able to recognize some sounds and read some words). However, he continues to be behind in his classes and because reading is such a fundamental skill, it is important that he gets up to grade level!

I am his brother's girlfriend (there is a huge age gap). His brother (27) and sister (25) both love him very much and try to support him as much as possible, but neither of them are in a position to take custody of him or anything like that. His sister will be starting law school soon and lives in another state, although she tries to facetime him often and support him while she can. His brother (my significant other (SO)) lives near him and sees him multiple times a week. However, he is going to be going to finish his last year of undergrad in another state starting this fall (he took a year off). I see him almost as often as my SO does and he likes me and enjoys hanging out with me. We are teaching him how to bike right now so we typically go out biking with him for at least 30 minutes. My SO helps him with his math (he is not as far behind in his math as his reading). I am the one who reads to him the most (I don't mind), largely because he vocally likes the way I read more.

My question is about both active and passive ways to get him up to grade level. He is starting summer in just a couple of days, and the time is a good chance to help catch him up and also keep his skills from eroding. We are trying to get him to make good friends in the neighborhood so that he can have fun with other kids his age as well as stay out of the house and away from the influence of his cousin/brother. We also try to play with him while he is around. When my SO goes back to school, I am going to hang out with him once or twice a week (his aunt has no problem with me taking him out). One of the big issues, however, is that we are not there most of the time and he has an iPad that his aunt essentially doesn't regulate his time on. It is frankly not possible to get her to supervise him most of the time or to read to him, so we need a passive way to get him learning. I am looking for suggestions or advice for ways to get him to learn without us necessarily being there - any possible ideas or suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

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The concern here is that the primary caretaker is unable/unwilling to have a focus on reading. It is great that you are committing to put in extra effort so that the kid catches up to his peers. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Make educational apps available to the kid when you are not around. Have only a couple of brainless apps. I see a decent list here, but someone with better experience with reading apps can suggest more - Homer, Bob Books, StarFall, Hooked on Phonetics, etc. http://www.readbrightly.com/best-reading-apps-for-4-8-year-olds/

  2. Make sure to keep your commitment to meet him 1 or 2 times a week. When you meet, make it a routine to read to him for sometime, encouraging him to read for sometime. Take him to library. Libraries generally have summer reading programs for kids.

Keep in mind, kids of that age do not have long attention spans. Aim for 5-10 minutes of genuine effort.

Also, it needs to be done each and every time as a routine. Otherwise the kid will start arguing/avoiding it. It gets easier after a few weeks.

Sitting still without a device needs some getting used to. So he might be wandering/rolling around when you are reading, but keep on. Read books at and slightly above his comprehension level. Ask him questions about what happening in the book. Talk about what happened in the book in when you are doing other things - when playing or eating or driving.

Find books on topics and characters that the kid likes.

Sometimes a little bribe will work to get things going.

Reading comes with practice and will get easier once the kid figures it out. You'll have to help him keep the practice even when he is frustrated.

Comparison to other kids will not help. He can see what the other kids in his class are doing, and is probably feeling shame.

Hope it helps, happy summer reading!

  • To add to "find books on topics and characters he likes": see if you can get him hooked on a series. Something where you can start reading it together and where he has the books available to continue on his own. If you can get him hooked on a story and leave him wanting more he may be inclined to pick the books up on his own to find out what happens next. – BunnyKnitter Jun 15 '18 at 22:08
  • I'd add to this, comparison does not help. Fade the others out and make it clear to help you're helping him all the way until he does not need assistance, and is where the other kids are.Some kids need smaller steps. – bigbadmouse Jul 12 at 11:41

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